The NFL schedule was released last night, and that means it's already time to start thinking toward the 2016 season and how well teams may do. It's fitting, then, to take a game-by-game look at the Indianapolis Colts' 2016 schedule and make way-too-early predictions. Yes, it's early, but that's part of the fun with it! So here we go: here are my early and unofficial predictions of the Colts' 2016 schedule.
Week 1: Detroit Lions, Sunday, September 11, 4:25 p.m.
The Colts begin the season at home for the first time since 2013, and they have the Detroit Lions coming to town. Detroit wasn't a great team a year ago and they will be dealing with the absence of Calvin Johnson, meaning it's quite possible that we see another average year for the Lions. The Colts, coming off of five preseason games, have more talent than the Bears and get the advantage of opening up at home, making this one a very winnable contest. WIN (1-0)
Week 2: at Denver Broncos, Sunday, September 18, 4:25 p.m.
We still don't know who is going to be starting at quarterback for the Broncos, but we do know two things: the Broncos defense should still be great and the Broncos will have ten days to prepare for the Colts heading into the week two matchup (Denver opens the year on Thursday Night Football as the defending champions). Andrew Luck and the Colts have played well against Devner in recent years, including last year, when Luck had his best game of the season. If he can replicate that the Colts could very well pull it out, but I'll give the edge to the team playing at home and with a great defense in this one. LOSS (1-1)
Week 3: San Diego Chargers, Sunday, September 25, 4:25 p.m.
The Chargers are not a very good team. They have a good quarterback in Phillip Rivers and they have some pieces, but that doesn't always make for a successful football team. With that said, the Chargers seem to always have the Colts' number and always play them tough, even going back to 2013 when they beat the Colts in San Diego in a miserable performance by Indianapolis. I expect the Chargers to once again play them tough, but I'll take the Colts in this one. WIN (2-1)
Week 4: at Jacksonville Jaguars (in London), Sunday, October 2, 9:30 a.m.
The Colts make the journey to London to face the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars, who should have a dangerous offense in 2016 - one that put up 51 points on the Colts in their most recent meeting. The Colts won't be overlooking Jacksonville, and it will be a tough game between two division opponents (that, furthermore, will be played in a different time zone at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, meaning the game may be ugly and the teams may be sluggish). While the Jaguars will be a tougher team this year, you can't go against Andrew Luck in Europe, so I'll take the Colts. WIN (3-1)
Week 5: Chicago Bears, Sunday, October 9, 1:00 p.m.
If Admiral Ackbar were to look at the Colts schedule, he'd circle this game and shout, "It's a trap!" The Colts will be the first team to play a game the week after playing in London rather than getting their bye week, and it was actually something they chose, opting to have their bye later in the year. Because of that, though, it will be interesting to see how the Colts deal in the change of routine and adjusting back to the normal schedule, and the Bears - while not great - aren't a pushover either. This one certainly is winnable for the Colts, but it also could very well be a trap game. LOSS (3-2)
Week 6: at Houston Texans, Sunday, October 16, 8:30 p.m.
The Colts' first primetime game of the year is in Houston against the defending AFC South champion Texans. The wild card in this game and in Houston's season is how Brock Osweiler plays, but assuming he gives them average play (which is the assumption I'm operating with right now), the Texans should be good enough to win games and compete for a division title once again. J.J. Watt and Houston's defense would lead the way, and I think the Texans manage to find enough to get it done. LOSS (3-3)
Week 7: at Tennessee Titans, Sunday, October 23, 1:00 p.m.
The Colts follow up back-to-back losses with a road trip to face another division opponent in the Tennessee Titans, and as we know, it's never easy to play a division team, much less on the road. The Titans are a work in progress but steadily moving in the right direction, and they have Marcus Mariota in place at quarterback. The Colts have Andrew Luck at the position, however, and I think this game will show that, while improved, the Titans are still chasing the top of the division. WIN (4-3)
Week 8: Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, October 30, 1:00 p.m.
The Chiefs were a good team last year, propelled by a remarkable eleven game win streak that spanned from week seven through the Wild Card round of the playoffs. They should again be a tough team to face and should again be contending for a playoff spot, so this won't be an easy one for Indy, but the Colts take advantage of a return home to Lucas Oil Stadium and take advantage of Andrew Luck and their offense to pull out a win. WIN (5-3)
Week 9: at Green Bay Packers, Sunday, November 6, 4:25 p.m.
The Green Bay Packers have the best quarterback in football in Aaron Rodgers and this game will be played at Lambeau Field, where the Colts haven't won at since before Andrew Luck was born. The Packers will be a Super Bowl contender once again this year, and while the Colts certainly can beat the Packers, I'm not predicting it but rather think we'll see Rodgers and his team pull out the home win over Luck and the Colts. LOSS (5-4)
Week 10: BYE WEEK
The Colts enter the bye week 5-4, which should be a record that has them firmly in the mix for the AFC South division lead. They get a later bye this year and will be able to rest up and prepare for the stretch to end the year.
Week 11: Tennessee Titans, Sunday, November 20, 1:00 p.m.
Similarly to what I wrote earlier about the road game against Tennessee, the Titans are a work in progress. The Colts have beaten the Titans nine times in a row (and, with the early season game, it would be ten at this point) and the Titans have never won in Lucas Oil Stadium. I expect both of those streaks to continue. WIN (6-4)
Week 12: Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday, November 24, 8:30 p.m.
For the first time in franchise history the Colts will host a Thanksgiving Day game, and it's a tremendous matchup. The Colts welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers, who might very well have the best offense in football, to Lucas Oil for a Thanksgiving night game, and the atmosphere at home should be electric. The good news for the Colts is that this game will be played at home rather than in Pittsburgh, but the bad news is that the Colts have struggled mightily against the Steelers in recent years. This one may be closer due to it being in Indy, but I expect the result to be the same. LOSS (6-5)
Week 13: at New York Jets, Monday, December 5, 8:30 p.m.
The New York Jets beat the Colts at their place on Monday Night Football last year, and the Colts will be looking to return the favor this time around. The Jets still have questions about their quarterback position but should be a solid team next year, and this could be a colder December game for Indy. With all of that said, however, I think the Colts find a way on eleven days rest to go into New York and pull out the win. WIN (7-5)
Week 14: Houston Texans, Sunday, December 11, 1:00 p.m.
At 7-5, this game will be huge for the Colts. Last year, the late-season Colts vs. Texans matchup in Indy decided the AFC South, and this year we could see a similar scenario play out. This game will be a crucial one in deciding who does wind up winning the division, but with the game at home and with Andrew Luck back and healthy, the Colts should be able to find a way to get the much-needed win and secure a big victory in the division race. WIN (8-5)
Week 15: at Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, December 18, 1:00 p.m.
The Colts make a late-season trip to play in the Vikings' new stadium (it's a dome, so that's good for the Colts), and they'll be facing a team that made the playoffs last year and should be right in the mix again this year. With Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson leading the show offensively and with a solid defense, the Vikings should be a hard team to beat, but I also think with Andrew Luck playing well, the Colts could pull it out. WIN (9-5)
Week 16: at Oakland Raiders, Saturday, December 24, 4:05 p.m.
I've made no secrets about it: I think the Raiders have a good chance to be a playoff team in 2016. I think they have a lot of the pieces in place, most notably guys like Derek Carr and Khalil Mack. The Colts will be making a West Coast trip for a late-afternoon Christmas Eve matchup against a Raiders team that I think will surprise people, and I see this being a game that could end up being very entertaining. In the end, I think Oakland gets the win at home and gets an early Christmas present. LOSS (9-6)
Week 17: Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, January 1, 1:00 p.m.
The Colts return home on New Year's Day to host the Jacksonville Jaguars and their dangerous offense. With the Colts 9-6 at this point I'm assuming both teams will be playing their starters, which could make for a good day offensively for both teams. Playing at home, with probable playoff implications on the line, and with Andrew Luck at quarterback, though, I think the Colts outscore the Jaguars and close the regular season with a win. WIN (10-6)